Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday Ramble: Put a Ringu on it.

[There are spoilers all up in this piece.]

One of the first things I wanted to do before this whole INVASIAN business got started was revisit The Ring and compare it to the original Ringu. I’m sure folks have compared the two movies better than I am going to here but this is my blog and these are my rules! (The only rules I have mostly pertain to the banning of “Seinfeld” from syndication.) As I have mentioned before, The Ring scared the pants off of LeEtta and I when we saw it back in October of 2002. We find out that this evil videotape kills people in seven days and then what happens? They show us the poor audience the tape! Now everyone in the audience is going to die in seven days. Even after we were home safely, my lady and I could still see little Samara lurking in the corners of our minds’ eye(s?).

The Ring was one of the things that helped jumpstart my seriously neglected love of horror movies. That October was when I started to raid the shelves at the video store again for some horror delights. This very profitable remake also helped spark the fiery love I have for Asian horror. So it’s a big deal for me. In fact, it was such a big deal that I didn’t watch The Ring for nearly 8 years. I’ve had the DVD for a long time but I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

I don’t know why I did this. I know that it wasn’t because I was too scared. After consuming countless horror movies between 2002 and now, it’s safe to say that I was ready to revisit the flick. Honestly, I think I was just too excited about The Ring to watch it again. Damn, this almost feels like a bad movie confession but The Ring is not a bad movie. It’s just kind of there. I think that it and the Dark Water remake are the best of the Asian horror remakes that have come out thus far. Oh and I liked Mirrors despite its glaring problems: “Stay away from the water, it makes reflections.” I think the remake business got some of my money because when I’m in the mood to see horror in theaters and there’s nothing good playing, I’m going to go anyway and see whatever is playing.

So for the first time in 8 years, I watched The Ring and oh yes, I had some observations. The first thing I noticed is that The Ring is beautifully shot. Yugoslavian-born cinematographer Bojan Bazelli casts the film in muted greens and grays giving it an undeniable atmosphere. There is an eerie tension between the big scares and some fantastically strange imagery on display. And it’s scary. The film is aggressively terrifying and will not let up until the viewer is wrecked and shaky. One little thing that particularly impressed me was the lack of brand names in the movie. The only one I picked up on is when Rachel (played by Naomi Watts) pays for something with her American Express card.

So where does this remake falter? Before I compare this film to the original, there are a couple of little problems here. The filmmakers must have thought only morons were going to be watching this film. There are a plethora of things that could have been subtle nuances or cool little hidden things that are delivered with all the sensitivity of a pulled pin at a grenade factory retirement party. For instance, upon second viewing, the infamous tape that drastically shortens one’s life expectancy is kind of lame. It has a few really dumb little faux-scary things in it like the box of wriggling severed fingers. So spooky! And speaking of not-so-subtle moments, Naomi Watts does gets a little cheesy when, after her son views the tape, the phone rings, and she screams “Leave him alone!” It didn’t hit me the first time but my eyes rolled so hard on re-watching it that I got a little disoriented.

Unlike The Ring, I’ve watched Ringu multiple times over the years. Right away, I can tell you that it’s the better film. Boop boop boop boop boop! Did you hear that? It was an obvious revelation detector going off. First of all, Hideo Nakata’s original masterpiece is just that: A MASTERPIECE! This is a scary ass movie with a whole mess of class, really cool ideas, and beauty packed into its 96 minutes; 9 minutes shorter than its American counterpart. The American version takes longer to tell a more convoluted story while the Japanese one is simpler and all the better for it. Ringu is also quite subtle and leaves a great deal to the imagination of the viewer.

The cursed videotape is much shorter and more direct than in the American version. However, when I add up the lists of what I like about the tape in the American version and what I like about the tape in Ringu, they come out pretty much equal. These lists are secret, by the way. Not really. The tape in Ringu is more functional. It shows more clues to the story than the tape in The Ring does but the tape in The Ring has two or three little jabs in it that make it scarier. The goat with a less than standard number of limbs hopping along and the horses dying on the beach just really freaks me out. Somehow, the mixed up newspaper clipping in the Japanese version just doesn’t send chills up my spine.

While I loved Brian Cox’s short but amazing performance as Samara’s suicidal father in The Ring, the story behind Samara’s parents leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it doesn’t make much sense. Samara’s history is alluded to and it just kind of paints her as a little girl who may or may not have been adopted and who is just plain EVIL! Nice origin story… Not! In the Japanese version, we are treated to a family of psychics who produces Sadako, a young lady more powerful (and EVIL!) than any of them can imagine. You know, it sounds ridiculous but somehow the latter just works better in my mind.

One thing that my sweet wife LeEtta pointed out during my little comparative experiment was that she now finds Sadako much scarier than Samara. I have to agree. When I look at screenshots of Samara, I’m not really affected by it. However, the longer I look at Sadako, I just feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Jeez! The final scare is certainly more effective in the Japanese version. When Sadako climbs out of that TV, damn it, I still get freaked. When Samara goes after what’s his face, it doesn’t really do anything for me now. It seems as though The Ring is a much better film when it is doing something different. Like that horsey scene on the ferry. Oh man, that still gets to me. When it tries to imitate that last awesome moment, it just doesn’t fare well under scrutiny.

For the longest time, my biggest bone of contention against Ringu was that the corpses Sadako leaves in her wake weren’t as scary as the ones in the American version. Gore Verbinski had Rick Baker doing the makeup and he went with the severely corpselike look which is just plain hard to look at. That moment in theaters (and one that still gets me on the DVD) is when we see the first victim. So we see this putrid looking corpse and it moves. IT FUCKING MOVES! I think about the American aesthetic that Verbinski had to think about when remaking Ringu and frankly, it’s genius. Sure, it is more of a popcorn movie but it worked on American audiences and I know there are other people besides my wife and I who found The Ring to be quite traumatic, especially in the dark confines of a movie theater. When I first beheld the corpses in Ringu, I laughed out loud. They are just actors in a little bluish makeup holding very still. The funny thing is, now that I’ve watched Ringu several times, those pasty frozen faces are starting to get to me.

In the end, I have a very strong affection for both The Ring and Ringu. Hideo Nakata’s film is simply stunning and it is worth a look or ten. Gore Verbinski’s version is a superb translation with only a few flaws. Both films effectively show the horror of the curse of a little misunderstood psychic girl (or young woman in the case of Sadako). The curse’s victims lose their identities –see how their faces blur when you try to take their picture- and then seven days later, they lose their lives. Two final things I must point out: 1) the musical score for Ringu is a million times more amazing than that of The Ring and 2) how the hell did Rachel survive the tumble down the well in The Ring? She even hits her head on the way down! Come on. That is some lame shit.

Okay, I’m not quite done yet. Aidan, the little kid in The Ring, is so much creepier than his Japanese counterpart. And what the hell was Abby from "NCIS" doing in the movie? Okay, I’m trying really hard not to go into a bunch of shit about the The Ring Two. Oh yeah, Margie (my mother-in-law), who joined us for the Ring Comparison Projection 2010, said that she liked the way ending plays out in the Japanese version better. And LeEtta concurs. They both like the idea of the kid's grandfather being the one sacrificed to the tape. Okay, enough rambling.


  1. Well done.

    An observation. In 'Ringu', the cursed tape is contributing plot-point that fits nicely into the film and has a nod to Buñuel; in 'The Ring', the cursed tape is a :90 Nine Inch Nails video. I'm not saying it's bad or even out of place, but it's more...American.

  2. Wonderful comparison piece. I haven't watched either film in many years. I've been meaning to watch the Ringu set. I've yet to see any of the other Japanese films or (shudder) Ring 2.